Their motto is “We Serve.”
And on May 20, Armed Forces Day, what they’ll be serving is pancakes. This will be the 57th consecutive year that the Central Lions have hosted the annual pancake breakfast just prior to the Armed Forces Day parade in downtown Bremerton.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” said Jeff Reynolds, vice president of the Bremerton Central Lions Foundation. “We have lots of members who want to be a part of it.”
The pancake breakfast was affiliated with a spring parade in its first few years, Reynolds said. That parade eventually became the Armed Forces Day parade and city officials asked the Central Lions to host its pancake breakfast on the same day as the parade.
Every year more than 60 members of the Central Lions make pancakes, sausage, and eggs for anyone who wants to fork over $5. There’s also juice, milk or coffee.
Most years, they serve 1,200 eggs, 1,200 sausages and as many pancakes as their commercial mixer will make.
“We fill that thing up about 25 times with batter,” he said. “The pancakes just keep coming.”
And so do the customers. From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. it’s steady traffic, he said. And then from 9 a.m. until the parade starts 10 a.m., there’s about 40 people in line all the time.
Typically, they serve 600 people. But the weather can make a difference.
The work begins the day before the parade when streets near Pacific Avenue and Fourth Street are closed to traffic around 4 p.m. Members come down to set up their “kitchen” and then a couple stay over all night to make sure things stay in place. At 6 a.m. the first cooks arrive and by 7 a.m. the parade marshals (local Kiwanis members) eat before going to work to line up the parade units.
“We see a lot of groups flow through that morning,” Reynolds said. “The marshals eat, and then the parade ambassadors, and then the local politicians. Then the folks who are going to be in the parade eat. After that comes the Navy brass and then the sailors from the ships. And following them are the folks who have come down to see the parade.”
Nobody goes away hungry. And most of them get to have eggs made-to-order by Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, a member of the Central Lions.
The Lions members work in shifts throughout the morning. In all, more than 60 participate, some as young as 18 or 20 years of age, and some as old as… wel — let’s just say they’re retired.
The Central Lions have been doing their service work in Bremerton for almost 92 years, according to Ron Morse, president of the Bremerton Central Lions Foundation. The foundation is the arm of the club that is a nonprofit and raises funds for its service work. The proceeds from the pancake breakfast go into the assets of the foundation and each year, of which the Lions give out scholarships to local students and fund other projects such as improvements to Lions Park and gifts to nonprofits.
Its work in the past few years has included re-doing ball fields, adding playground equipment, donations to the Boys & Girls Club, the Salvation Army, Bremerton Foodline, and replacing the marquee at the Admiral Theatre.
The Central Lions also have an annual fundraising auction in October which adds $40,000 to $50,000 to their assets.
The Bremerton Central Lions also organize the Armed Forces Day Ambassadors program in which five applicants are selected to serve as ambassadors during the Armed Forces Day events. The scholarship program is open to any high school student in Kitsap County and requires completing an application and interview, a speech, and writing an essay on “What Freedom Means to Me.” A panel of judges select the ambassadors and based on their performances, each is given a scholarship to use to further their education.
In years past, it was a pageant-style contest, but in 2002, it became a scholarship event and was opened to both boys and girls in high school, Reynolds said.
The ambassadors will be at the pancake breakfast, helping serve coffee and clearing tables. They will ride in the parade and they will make several other appearances in May.
Leslie Kelly is special sections editor for Sound Publishing’s Kitsap News Group.
This story originally appeared in the Armed Forces 2017 Festival Guide, a special section published on May 19 in the Bainbridge Island Review.